12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
–1 Corinthians 15.12-28 (NIV)
[Jesus said] 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
–John 14.18-19 (NIV)
You recall that in yesterday’s lesson, Paul talked about the historicity of the Resurrection, about how we can be assured that Christ was bodily raised from the dead and appeared to several of his followers. We saw that Paul placed a premium on eyewitness accounts (his own included) and in telling the truth. In today’s lesson, Paul continues to lay out his defense of the Resurrection and we would do well to pay attention to what he says.
Apparently there were some in the church at Corinth who denied the resurrection of the dead and Paul strongly refutes this. Most strikingly, Paul reminds us that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised and his testimony, along with the testimony of other Christians, is a lie, that he is guilty of providing false testimony about God! What a damning and terrible thing to say!
But of course, Paul knows the reality of the Resurrection and so he knows he is not a liar.
Paul also reminds us that if the Resurrection did not take place, then we who are believers are most of all to be pitied. Why is that? Well, first, if Christ was not raised bodily from the dead, then death still reigns. We are still “children of Adam,” that is, we are still dead in our sins. Elsewhere, Paul has reminded us that the wages of sin is death and death is all we have to look forward to if Christ was not raised. Bummer. This is an especial bummer for Christians who are taught to deny themselves, take up their cross each day, and follow Jesus. Who would really want to do that if all they had to look forward to was death? Why would we want to do what does not come naturally to us, e.g., to extend mercy to others to resist our selfishness, etc? It just doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s just dumb. Heck, just ask any of Christianity’s critics! 🙂
But if Jesus was raised from dead, following Jesus most certainly does make sense as Paul explains. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then that means there is life beyond our physical death and will bring purpose and meaning to our lives right here and now. We no longer have to be afraid. We no longer have to be in despair, because in Christ God has conquered death. Later this week we will look at ways in which the Resurrection can bring meaning and purpose to our lives here on earth. Right now, I want to look at what Paul meant by “resurrection.”
In talking about the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ Resurrection, Paul was not talking about dying and going to heaven to be with Jesus forever. Yes, those who believe in Jesus will certainly be with him when we die. But for Paul and the early Christians, this is not what resurrection meant. As Bishop Tom Wright has put it, Paul was talking about life after life after death. Our bodies will die and we will rest in the Lord in a disembodied state (cf. Luke 23.40-43; Philippians 1.22-23; John 14.1-4). But that is not the end game. The end game is New Creation–God’s New Creation, new heavens and earth, and this is where we will be raised from the dead and have our bodies reanimated by the very Spirit of God. We will get bodies like our Lord’s. They will not be mortal bodies, but immortal ones, not subject to death, decay, illness or any of the other nasty things that can go wrong with our mortal bodies. As Paul tells us here, this will happen when Jesus returns in great power and glory to finish the redemptive work he started.
Frankly, the Church overall in recent years has done a pathetic job in teaching this. I know when I was a young man, I could not say the line in the Apostles’ Creed about believing in the resurrection of the dead because I really didn’t understand what that affirmed. I mean, who among us has seen a dead body resurrected? Every cemetery I’ve visited seems to be doing quite fine, thank you. But Paul and the Creed were talking about our future hope, a hope based on and rooted in the preview we see of coming attractions in Jesus’ own death and resurrection. That is why believing in the historicity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is critical to the faith. Without it, we have nothing and are left without hope.
What all this means, of course, is that creation matters. God don’t make junk and in the Resurrection of Jesus, one of the things we see is that God is setting in motion his plans to redeem his broken and fallen creatures and creation (cf. Romans 8). Notice carefully that God has decided not to throw everything out and start from scratch. Sin is intolerable to God’s holiness but he is not going to utterly destroy his good creation or his creatures. No, God is going to bring New Creation from the old and when that happens, death will be obliterated forever. Because we know that we are not going to wink out of existence when our bodies die, and because we now have our marching orders from the Lord to love and serve both him and his people, this must lead to meaning and purpose in our lives right now. Look around you. There’s plenty of work to do in the name of Jesus.
Moreover, as Paul reminds us in today’s passage, when we believe in Jesus’ resurrection, we must also acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. This means that we are to follow Jesus’ orders, not the world’s. We are to act like we believe the Promise and seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This is bound to stir up opposition from the world and from the powers and principalities because when we choose to follow Jesus, we are thumbing our noses at them and nobody, especially the powers and principalities, likes to have others thumb their noses at them. Nobody. What this means, of course, is that you should be prepared to suffer for the Name because you inevitably will. The powers and principalities have been disarmed by the cross of Christ (cf. Colossians 2.14-16) but they haven’t been dealt with in a final way. That too will come with New Creation. But because the Resurrection is real, you can rejoice in your suffering because you know that you are being faithful to your Lord and that your work is not all for naught.
I can’t speak for you, but all of this fills me with great hope. Honestly, I never was able to get very excited about living in eternity in a disembodied state. I guess in the final analysis, I am just too earthy a creature so what Paul is talking about here excites me. I look forward to the day when I can live in God’s New Creation, in his direct Presence, with my new resurrection body (whatever that will look like). I look forward to the day when I am no longer weighed down by this body of sin that burdens me so terribly. I look forward to being reunited with those believers whom I have loved and lost for a little while. And I look forward to loving, worshiping, and serving God in his New Creation, free from the fear of death or hurt or sorrow or separation or loss or anything else that has the power to keep us separated from the Source and Author of all life.
What about you? Does this notion excite you and fire your imagination? If it does, and if you have not already done so, give yourself to Christ and begin living the kind of life now that will become fully in effect then.